Android Instant Apps – brace yourselves for the game changer of mobile Web

19 May 2016

Google has announced a brilliant innovation in mobile development – Instant Apps, allowing to launch apps immediately without installation!

Yesterday, at Google I/O developers conference, the company unveiled their biggest new project with the potential to disrupt the entire mobile industry.  Instant Apps is a new Android feature devised to bridge the gap between mobile and web apps by allowing the user to run native apps almost instantly simply by tapping on a URL. The real magic is that you don’t need to have previously downloaded the app! Mobile apps often provide a better user experience than browser-based web apps, but you first have to find them, download them, and then try not to forget you installed them. Now, Google wants us to rethink the entire concept of how we interact with apps.


When you think about it, there is a whole lot of apps which you install, use once or twice and never want to bother with again. The idea behind Instant Apps is to make the native app experience as convenient as surfing to a web site. Web pages are ephemeral. They appear, you use them, and then never think about them again. Although mobile users spend the vast majority of their time in apps, they still visit more websites than apps. This isn’t exactly surprising, as the Web simply has a lot more to offer, but at least some of the reason for this comes down to the friction of app installation. After all, visiting a website can be done in just a few seconds, while downloading an Android app can take several minutes of going through the installation process.


The basic idea of Instant Apps is simple: when you click on a link with an associated Instant App at the URL, you get a tiny version of that app which serves you the exact information you were looking for – points on a map, a video, a specific online shopping item, a payment system and everything else developers can come up with to improve your mobile experience. For example, Google’s demo during the annual I/O developers conference was with a parking meter app. Imagine you need a local parking app in a new city. You don’t want to install it, because that’s a hassle and you will probably never use it again. But what if with just a simple hover over the parking meter the built-in NFC chip on your smartphone reads the info and instantly loads the entire app, complete with Android Pay and fully supported. You just have to pay for your parking, go on your way and you don’t even have an app cluttering up your storage later. Google also worked with BuzzFeed on an early test that lets you open up an instant version of the Buzzfeed Video app to watch a video, and with B&H to show how developers could use this feature for a spur of the moment online shopping experience.


From a developer’s point of view, Instant Apps is more of an upgrade to an existing app, rather than building one from scratch. They still use the same Android APIs, the same project and the same source code. What they will have to do is just modularize the app so that users only downloads the necessary bits from Google Play.  For some, this could take less than a day to implement, though the effort involved will vary depending on the complexity of the app and how the code is structured. Although there is no limit on the number of Instant Apps that developers can make, each module cannot exceed 4MB in order for the Instant App’s launch to remain in a timeframe comparable to a mobile webpage. Also Android devices that don’t have Google Play installed (including many Android phones and tablets in China, Amazon’s Fire line, and so on) won’t be able to use Android Instant Apps.


What struck us as surprising is that this new feature is not tied to Android N. It works on Android Jelly Bean devices and up, meaning over 1 billion smartphones will be able to support it. While the team over at Google is still working out the tweaks of this revolutionary new feature, their partners like Buzzfeed, B&H Photo Video, Medium, Hotel Tonight, Zumper and Disney are already trying out Instant Apps. For now, the company is just preparing the mobile market for this massive upcoming disruption, concerning both developers and users.